By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
La Mesa remains a magnet for antique shops
Signs along Adams Avenue in San Diego’s Normal Heights neighborhood mark an area known as Antique Row. However, due to gentrification, the street has gone from hosting over 25 antique stores in its heyday to just one today.
In the age of Etsy and eBay, antique stores will likely populate shopping districts less than in the past, but there is still one place old-school antique buyers can go and browse through aisles of vintage treasures –– La Mesa. As of now, there are eight antique stores in La Mesa, most of them on La Mesa Boulevard and located near the Village.
Frances Settle, co-owner of Antiques at the Village, said La Mesa’s small-town charm makes it an ideal place to attract antique shoppers.
“We’re just a little slice of America here and it’s the only little village left in Southern California,” she said, adding that antique collectors often come to La Mesa because of the concentration of shops.
“It’s always good to have neighbors that are in the same line of business,” she said. “I think it’s a draw.”
Settle joined Antiques at the Village in 1998 and credits the store’s staying power to its location and a landlord who sees the value in keeping happy tenants.
She also loves the convenience of operating a business in La Mesa. The retail hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Village allow the shop to operate without having to hire extra help.
“For a mom-and-pop, you got to have that, otherwise you work yourself to death,” she said.
The rising cost of rent for retail space is one of the main reasons that districts like Adams Avenue’s Antique Row have seen stores closed and replaced by more lucrative businesses like restaurants, pubs and salons.
“Property values are a little bit more affordable here than in San Diego,” said Marie McLaughlin, owner of Antique Mall, a large antique center that houses 40 spaces for dealers to set up unique displays of merchandise. Although rent is cheaper in La Mesa, McLaughlin said it has still doubled in the last 10 years.
Another challenge for antique shops is the changing value of vintage items due to changing tastes of buyers.
“People aren’t collecting like they used to,” McLaughlin said. “When they see values are down, they just aren’t as intrigued as before.”
McLaughlin pointed to items like collectible ceramic figurines called Hummels that are worth “hundreds less” now. Other items she’s seen a drop in demand for include vintage cookie jars, salt-and-pepper shakers, and other household items. But there are some hot items that are always in demand.
“I place ads on Craigslist and all they want are the toys,” she said.
When it comes to online sales, McLaughlin puts a few items up on eBay, but prefers to stay old-school and sell her antiques in the store.
“eBay is a tremendous amount of work and this is a lot more fun,” she said. “People like to touch what they buy and know what they are getting.”
Not all stores are averse to utilizing online retail services to sell antiques. Michael Moore of Park Estate Co. said the Internet is just beginning to shake up how the antique business is done.
“This is the first year we are seeing a huge effect,” he said. “We just have to learn how to work with it more. At least half of the buyers are going to online retailers, so it is necessary.”
Park Estate is already adapting and does “a tremendous amount” of online sales, Moore said.
La Mesa’s demographics also give the retailer a more traditional boost to sales.
“The advantage of being out here is we have an aging population and they are still shopping, we have that to work with still,” he said. “That means we have a little bit of both.”
Arlene Moore, Michael’s wife and co-owner of Park Estate, is the president of the Village Merchants Association and a co-founder of the La Mesa Village Antique Street Faire. She and Kathy Snowden — who owned Finders Keepers in the building where Park Estates now resides — started the street fair in 2004 as a way to promote the city’s antique stores. The fair hosts around 100 dealer booths and offers free appraisal clinics for people to learn about the value of their antiques.
That people need and want expert advice about antiques is the reason Arlene Moore sees antique stores as permanent fixtures along La Mesa Boulevard and shopping districts like it.
“It’s what it’s about, having to man a store,” she said. “People want to talk to the owner … they want to talk to someone knowledgeable. There [are] always going to be antique stores.”
––Write to Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.